What is COP?

What is COP?

COP is an abbreviation for Conference of Parties, and it stands under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). It is also referred to as the United Nations Climate Change Conference. This year, COP26 will be held in Glasgow, Scotland from Monday the 1st November to Friday the 12th November 2021. 

COP26 will be the 26th Conference of Parties. The first COP (COP1) was held in Berlin, Germany in 1995 and there has been one every year since, with the exception of 2020, when COP26 was postponed due to the covid-19 pandemic. 

What happens at a COP?

The purpose of COPs are to find global solutions to the climate emergency, and to form agreements that aim to both mitigate climate change and adapt to its impact on communities and ecosystems around the world.

To find out more about what happens at COP watch Dr Harriet Thew’s video.

The main actors at COPs are state representatives, who represent different countries and their positions. They take part in negotiations, and form negotiating blocks, with the aim of advancing their aims. There are also other key actors which take part in COPs, like NGOs and charities, businesses and campaign movements. 

Before COP26

The first ever United Nations COP was held in Berlin, Germany in 1995. Never before had states jointly adopted measures to combat global climate change. COP3, two years later, saw the initiation of the Kyoto Protocol, which committed states to reducing greenhouse gas emissions based on individual targets.

After the Protocol largely failed in achieving its objectives, the legally binding Paris Agreement was created at COP21 in 2015 to redress key issues. However, at the conclusion of COP25 in Madrid in 2019, the final sticking points relating to the Agreement remained unresolved. This has formed the pretext for negotiations at COP26 in November 2021.  

What is COP26 hoping to achieve?

The four key goals for COP26 are:

  1. Secure global net zero by 2050
  2. Enable adaptation to the effects of climate change
  3. Mobilise climate finance
  4. Work together to deliver objectives
What is likely to be discussed at COP26?

Several topics are high on the discussion agenda, in the hope to achieve the key goals of COP26. Firstly, the final sticking points of the Paris Agreement, particularly Article 6, will hopefully be resolved, such as closing the loopholes relating to carbon trading. Secondly, states are likely to be encouraged to update their nationally determined contributions (NDCs) to reflect more ambitious targets for emissions reductions. Finally, the subject of climate finance is expected to dominate negotiations. 

For more information on what will likely be discussed at COP26, including Climate Finance watch Professor Elizabeth Bomberg & David Reay’s predictions.

What has the UK’s role been in previous COPs and what role is it likely to play at COP26?

As an individual actor, the UK has not yet played a significant role in COP negotiations. However, until 2021 the UK was a member state of the EU, which has been influential in pushing states for ambitious targets.

 This year, as host nation to both the G7 Summit and COP26, the UK can be seen to be carving out a leadership role in climate diplomacy. The UK has started to lead by example with success in reducing greenhouse gas emissions in recent years and setting ambitious targets ahead of COP26.

How will Covid-19 affect COP26?

Although COP26 will be going ahead in person, the COVID-19 pandemic is likely to have a significant effect on the accessibility of the conference. Because vaccine programmes have been carried out to varying degrees in nations across the world, countries with fewer resources may struggle to send delegates and other important representatives to Glasgow for the event. This is particularly concerning as many of these countries will suffer disproportionately from the harmful effects of climate change. 

However, holding COP26 in-person rather than online does have some positive implications. Negotiating face-to-face encourages fluent and flexible communication, which may have been impossible to replicate over video-conference. Also, due to a number of potential technological obstacles such as issues with internet connectivity, it is likely that LEDCs would have been disproportionately hindered by an online version of COP. 

What’s more, civil society groups and young people retain a level of influence over proceedings at an in-person COP. Having a presence outside of official meetings and at informal events means they are likely to play more of a role than would have been possible online.

What must be done to make COP26 a success?

The sticking points of the Paris Agreement should be resolved at COP26, after the failure to do so at COP25 in Madrid. Most importantly, however, states must be ambitious with targets and make bold decisions in order to implement meaningful solutions to the climate crisis, despite the challenges posed by Covid-19.

Watch Professor Elizabeth Bomberg share her hopes for COP26. 

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